Our Voice: Gov. Rick Snyder has a story tell, and people need to hear it

By Editorial Board | The Bay City Times

For all the aw-shucks appeal of his successful “One Tough Nerd” campaign a year ago to lead the state as its chief executive, Gov. Rick Snyder has remained to many Michiganders a man of mystery.

The former Gateway computers company executive and venture capital fund leader promised a businesslike approach to reforming Michigan government. And that’s what we got.

He got out of his reportedly unadorned Lansing office to speak with groups in public when he had to, but until recently has been way too shy about the political bread and butter of pressing the flesh, talking with just plain folks, dropping in on newspapers for a brief session of “What’s up?”

We weren’t put off by his odd absence from our editorial offices during the campaign, and we aren’t now. We’ve spoken with him by phone several times, and endorsed him for election last fall.

A lot of political water — and change — has flowed under Michigan’s bridges since then.

Business taxes were cut, seniors’ pensions taxed, state money to cities counties and schools slashed. Thousands of public union demonstrators marched on the state Capitol in Lansing. A statewide recall campaign ignited to get this guy the heck out of office and then sputtered out, lacking enough signatures to make it happen.

Clearly, The Guv owes everyone some answers.

Like them or not, he has them.

Out of step with his protocol so far, Snyder dropped by our offices at his request on Sept. 22 while in Bay City to speak to a crowd at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Bay Area … on the Go!” event. After talking with him about the whirlwind of change in Lansing in the past nine months, we concluded:

This dude has got to get out more.

Not because he’s out of touch; he’s very well attuned to what’s happening in this state.

We say he must travel the byways and highways of the Great Lakes State more because he has a story to tell, and people need to hear it.

He is a nerd, he is a businessman and he’s brought all of that to the governor’s office as promised. But he hasn’t cultivated the very necessary political part of public service.

We the people, the governed, need to see our governor. We need him to see us. That kind of face-to-face with the people is reassuring, especially in such uncertain economic times as these, whether those meeting the governor like what they hear him say or not.

He’s got a relaxed, tell-it-like-it-is boardroom demeanor that would be at home in any Michigan bar or cafe.

Quite unlike those gathering places, though, he’s decidedly apolitical, to a fault.

Snyder just last weekend let it drop that he might not run for re-election in 2014 if he accomplished by then all that he set out to do.

Honest-to-by-golly goodness, he’d might rather be fishing or teaching some class than plunge into another term as governor if he doesn’t think he’s needed.

Rick Snyder is one different bird in the deep, dark political woods of Michigan.

But ignoring politics won’t make the debates go away or shoo pesky opposition to ideas that have a lot of merit.

Snyder in fact ruefully admits that the $5 million advertising campaign that the private owners of Detroit’s international Ambassador Bridge is a roundhouse punch against his scheme to build a second, publicly owned bridge to Canada.

That’s even though Snyder’s plan is the best bet in years to get billions in federal funds into Michigan for road repair everywhere. Basically, Snyder says he went to Washington, D.C., and “I asked the question nobody had asked.” The answer was yes, the $550 million that Canada has agreed to pay as Michigan’s share of a new bridge can be counted as the state’s matching funds to get the federal highway money.

What’s not to like about that?

Snyder the businessman already told us all about that in his State of The State address in February. But Snyder the governor hasn’t gotten up in the bully pulpits welcome to him across the state to say it again and again and again. Those are the politics that he had ignored — not to his peril, since he’s not inclined to stay in Lansing once his mission is accomplished — but to the detriment of ideas that can be good for Michigan and Michiganders. 

The governor’s slogan of “relentless positive action” clearly signals that he won’t be drawn into any mudslinging matches with his opponents. But the down-and-dirty is just one flawed facet of the political art.

The more influential part is the selling of ideas. And that, as any good salesman knows, takes a lot of face time.

Snyder’s good on the one-on-one, too, and apparently likes it. He sits down to lunch regularly with random groups of state employees to pick their brains, as any good business leader should. It builds trust and confidence.

Michiganders at large need some of that, too, and we bet they want more of the personal touch from their governor that is a trademark of Wolverine politics. 

Thanks for dropping by Bay City, governor, and come again.